I’m so excited to be part of Lorraine Zago Rosenthal’s blog tour for her debut novel Other Words for Love. It releases tomorrow, January 11, 2011, and I can’t urge you enough to go buy a copy. Thank you, Lorraine, for asking me to participate! 😀
First of all, I absolutely loved your book! It hasn’t even been officially released and I’m already eager for your second book 🙂
Thank you, Sarah! It’s really a thrill to hear that, and I’m so happy that you loved my book. I’m working on my second novel right now!
1. In the beginning of the book, Ari tells us that she was named after a character from one of Chekhov’s books. Did you read this book?
Yes, I’ve read it. The reference to it in Other Words for Love is to give some insight into Ari’s mother, Nancy. Nancy is a teacher who has a Master’s in English and aspires to write a novel. She’s a very tough and streetwise woman, but she’s also intelligent and well-read. She’s ambitious and wants more for her children than what she has. It just made sense to me that she would name her daughter after a story written by a highly-regarded author—it’s symbolic of Nancy’s character and her aspirations for Ari.
2. Ari’s parents are a teacher and a police officer. Did either of your parents work in this profession? Was there a reason behind these career choices for your characters?
My parents didn’t work in those professions, but there were a few reasons why I chose these careers for Ari’s parents.
I wanted Ari to come from a home that is neither wealthy nor poor—her family doesn’t have everything, but it has enough—and Ari’s parents’ careers are ones that provide a stable income and a solid middle-class life. Ari’s father is a homicide detective with the NYPD, and his job keeps him away from home a great deal. He buries himself in his work, and this (along with his personality) distances him from Ari. He’s not very involved in his children’s lives and not at all in touch with Ari’s emotions. He has no idea how to relate to a teenage girl. I had an image of him as a good man but a somewhat hardened police officer, and that worked with this aspect of the story.
Regarding Ari’s mother, Nancy, I always viewed her as a take-charge, no-nonsense, and smart person—and I thought that teaching was the perfect career for her because I could see her easily handling a classroom filled with kids! I thought that Nancy was someone who would take a job as a public school teacher because it’s stable and practical. However, her circumstances in life prevented her from doing everything she wanted career-wise. This is why she’s so adamant that Ari should utilize her talent.
3. Why did you set the novel in the mid-1980s?
There are a few reasons why I chose this time period. When I began writing Other Words for Love, it seemed to me that the 1980s were a neglected era in YA fiction. There is historical YA set in the 1800s, 1920s, etc., so why not the 1980s? I thought that if teens could identify with historical fiction—time periods with cultures and values so different from now—then they could easily relate to a time period that they didn’t live through but wasn’t all that long ago. The ideals of the 1980s weren’t exactly the same as today, but they weren’t completely different, either. I don’t think that a novel set in the 80s is markedly different than one that is set in the present day. I was also sure that young readers would catch the references—Madonna and Bruce Springsteen are still around! I think that teens have the ability to be interested in and to relate to any era if they like the story and characters. I also felt that adult YA readers who lived through the 1980s would connect with it, and there has been so much 1980s nostalgia in the media in recent years—such as “I Love the 80s” on VH1! I think we have enough distance on that decade now to appreciate it.
But the main reason I set Other Words for Love in the 1980s is that the story wouldn’t work in another time period. As I mentioned, culture and values weren’t radically different then, but they weren’t exactly the same as today. For example—in the novel, Ari’s sister has a baby when she is seventeen years old, and although teen pregnancy isn’t encouraged or advocated now, I think it has less of a social stigma than it had during the 80s. There was no “Teen Mom” on MTV back then! Also, the issue of AIDS is prevalent in the novel. Although AIDS unfortunately still exists, it is better understood than it was during the 80s, when it was new and many people didn’t fully comprehend how it could be contracted. There was an undercurrent of hysteria when AIDS first appeared.
4. Other Words for Love reminds me of Sarah Dessen’s book Someone Like You and Judy Blume’s book Forever. Have you read either of these books? Have any books or authors influenced your writing?
I have read both of those books. I’m a huge Judy Blume fan—I consider her the goddess of YA literature! I believe that her novels and her work against censorship have had a big influence on the YA genre as we know it today. She was definitely an influence, as were many other authors—not all of whom write YA. I have also been greatly influenced by screenwriting. From a young age, I not only watched movies, but I studied plot, character development, and dialogue. I still do this now. One movie that had a big impact on me is Terms of Endearment. I love the mother-daughter dynamic in that film, because it’s so honest and complex.
5. While I was reading, I really felt connected to Ari. When you write, do you feel a connection with any of your characters?
I’m so glad that you felt a connection with Ari! When I was writing the novel, I felt very close to all the characters—but especially to her. I always feel a connection with my characters—if I didn’t relate to them, care about them, and understand them, I couldn’t effectively write about them.
#1: Emily Bronte. Wuthering Heights is a book that has influenced me as a writer. I admire the way Bronte developed the characters so that readers understand the characters’ motivations and connect with them even when they’re doing the wrong thing. I know that Bronte passed away at a young age, and I’d love to tell her how successful and loved her novel has become!
#2: Sylvia Plath. She was a very talented writer, and my understanding is that her novel The Bell Jar was not well-received when she was alive. That’s really unfortunate, because she deserved so much praise for that book—which is brilliant. The novel deals with the protagonist’s severe depression, and it was published at a time when depression wasn’t understood. I think that this novel can, and has, helped many readers who can relate to this issue. I wish Plath could have known that.
#3: Judy Blume…of course! I’ve already expressed how awesome I think she is!
7. Your author bio says you have a Master’s degree in Education. Do you currently teach? If so, what level?
Yes…I teach English and literature part-time at a local community college. It’s the perfect part-time job for an author— I have plenty of time to write!
8. Did you get a psychology degree knowing you were going to become an author? Does your background in psychology help you develop characters?
When I started college, I was planning to major in English, creative writing, or film. I was also interested in psychology, so I ended up switching majors. I always wanted to be a novelist or a screenwriter, but I knew that these were tough professions to break into—and life forced me to be practical—so I went to graduate school to earn a Master’s in Education so that I could teach, and I later earned a Master’s in English. My psychology degree definitely helps my writing, because you need to understand how the human mind works to get into the minds of your characters.
9. What advice do you have for teenage girls like Ari that are going through their first serious relationship?
My advice is that while it’s great to have a relationship, don’t turn it into your main focus. Be responsible within that relationship, and put yourself first. Never let anyone or anything stand in the way of what you want to achieve. And always remember that even if that first relationship doesn’t live up to your expectations, everything happens for a reason. Learn and grow from the experience, and move on to better things.
10. Many of my students have the goal to become a published author. Do you have any words or advice or encouragement for them?
I would tell aspiring authors to ignore the naysayers! It might not be easy to become a published author, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do it—just shut the negative people out, study other writers’ work, practice your craft, believe in yourself, and keep your eyes on the goal.